A researcher with the Philos Project told journalists in February that Iran is squeezing non-Muslims out of the country, and is fighting to do the same in nearby states such as Iraq and Syria. In these neighboring nations, Iran is taking advantage of local political instability to gain a foothold in a war torn region.
Senior Research Fellow Dr. Farhad Rezaei, an Iranian Kurd, is a Christian convert who fled Iran and now teaches at York University and resides in Canada. The Philos Project is a nonprofit group that educates and advocates for Christians in the Middle East.
Rezaei said, during a February 2022 briefing, that only Sunni Jihadists have contributed to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East is “too simplistic,” and ignores the influence of Iran-backed militias in countries like Iraq.
These Iran-backed militias are especially prevalent in Northern Iraq, where the majority of the refugees in our programs are from. This is little-known internationally, as the spotlight has often been on ISIS, and prior to that, Al-Qaeda. However, sources such as Reuters, have shed light on Iranian combat troops believed to have been stationed in Iraq since 2014.
A native Iranian, Rezaei noted that since the country’s 1979 revolution, Islamic leaders in Iran have described adherents to minority religions such as Christianity and Judaism as “pollution,” and have taken steps to shrink the size of the Christian and Jewish communities by pushing them out of the country.
In Iraq, Rezaei noted, Iran-backed Shiite militias have carried out numerous abductions, killings, and sexual assaults in recent years. They have also seized large areas of land belonging to Christians, especially in the Nineveh Plain. In total, at least 20,000 acres of farmland have been burned, and the militias have carried out at least 75 attacks on places of worship, with at least nine instances of using a church as a military base.
Many of these crimes have been solely attributed to Sunni jihadist groups such as the Islamic State, rather than Iran. In Northern Iraq, it’s not widely known that Iranian forces are occupying large areas, with Shiite forces squeezing the native Christians out by seizing property. Just as the Sunni-backed Islamic State, Shiite-backed Iran is competing for control in a politically unstable region. On top of all of this, Turkey is also fighting a proxy war in Northern Iraq, and has bombed several towns on the Nineveh Plain since last year.
A region rife with Islamic extremism, Sunni jihadists groups are also still an active scourge on the region. That cannot be understated. Only a few months ago, we reported that jihadist tensions along the Iraq-Syria border were being watched carefully by Iraqi Christians.
It was not long ago that ISIS waged war on Christians and Yazidis in the Nineveh Plain, attacking towns, burning churches, forcing conversions and killing families. Most that were able to leave were only able to escape with the clothes on their backs, facing uncertain futures in neighboring nations. Those futures are still uncertain for those who have stayed and those who are now returning.
From the February 2022 killing of Abu Ibrahim al Hashimi al-Qurayshi, al-Baghdadi’s successor of head of ISIS, to the Turkish air raids in Kurdistan, to the assault on Ghwayran prison, tensions have been heightened on the Iraqi-Syrian border. As the conflict has escalated, ISIS affiliated militias, who once controlled half of the territories between the two nations, maintain active sleeper cells, ready to strike.
The tensions between the two Islamic extremist groups, wrought with layers upon layers of political turmoil, religious difference, and a hatred of anyone deemed “other;” has boiled over and impacted hundreds of thousands of innocents in the Nineveh Plain over the last decade.
Regional clashes between different militias, minority groups, and facets of the Iraqi government have also recently displaced over 1,000 Yazidi families on the Nineveh Plain. This is unfortunately not the first time that the Yazidis have been uprooted from their homeland.
In a region rife with political turmoil, the Christians, Yazidis, and Shabak of the Nineveh Plain need our help now more than ever before. The refugees who have fled their homelands in search of peaceful and stable futures, from 2014 onward, need programs to help their bodies, minds, and spirits recover from the intense trauma they have experienced.
In the wake of the growing refugee crisis around the world, more programs are needed like the ones administered by American FRRME. Unfortunately, refugees are among the world’s most underserved populations.
Life is not easy for Iraqi refugees. As adversity grows, programs are needed to protect the most vulnerable of these refugees. American FRRME is committed to long term self-sustaining programs and opportunities to help empower refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. Donations to American FRRME go to programs that will aid in the survival of families facing violence across the Middle East.